Not long after we moved to Arizona, my daughter found a new best friend. Let’s call her Jaime.
Jaime was a quiet, serious girl. I should have liked Jaime better than I did. My daughter was in middle school and failing. Her behavior had become more and more erratic, and it was clear that she had figured out the truth parents like me dread: that I had absolutely no control over anything she did.
In a way, Jaime stepped in to fill the gap. If I set off a rocket inside her room, I could not get my daughter out of bed in time for the school bus. But Jaime did. She’d come over early and coax my daughter out of bed, into her clothes and onto the bus.
And while I knew my daughter would ignore me if I said it was time for Jaime to go home, Jaime never would. So when it got late, I’d tell my daughter loudly enough for Jaime to hear. And she’d leave over my daughter’s protests that she stay.
I should have liked Jaime, but I didn’t. I didn’t like Jaime because my daughter started really slipping about the time she met her. And I didn’t want to admit that it could be my daughter (or me!) who was the problem. Jaime made a convenient and uncomplaining scapegoat.
The other reason I resented Jaime is that her mother never did any of the driving. So one day, I decided that I was done with that. I agreed to drive the girls to the movies one night, only on the condition that Jaime’s mom would drive the next time. All parties agreed and I assumed it was all settled.
Until the night Jaime’s mom was supposed to drive. My daughter had walked over to Jaime’s house, but not long afterward, the two girls turned up at our house with some story that didn’t make any sense. Something about Jaime’s shoe being lost after it fell off the top of the car.
So I marched over to Jaime’s house to get to the bottom of things. I pounded on the door, and Jaime’s mom answered. It was obvious that she was quite drunk.
I don’t know why I hadn’t figured this out before. My mom did the same thing. When I was growing up, she always made excuses for not driving. She said she couldn’t drive me anywhere in the evenings because she didn’t want to change out of her robe. But the truth is that every evening she was drunk.
Once I saw Jaime’s mom, everything made sense: Jaime’s hyper sense of responsibility, her desire to take care of everyone else, her serious nature. Yet she never let on. I imagine she was ashamed.
I was ashamed, too. Jaime was a lot like I was at her age. If anyone should have seen the signs, it should have been me.
My sponsor talks about “the blessing” that every child should receive at birth: Receiving the blessing means to be:
That doesn’t always happen. I believe all parents want to give their children these things. But sometimes they can’t. They didn’t receive the blessing from their parents, and they can’t give what they don’t have.
Having grown up in an alcoholic home, I didn’t receive the blessing. So I didn’t know how to give it to my own daughter, much less anyone else’s.
Yet, I always wished that, knowing what I knew, I could have been an adult who “stood in the gap” for Jaime.
During Alateen certification training, I was counseled to “check my motives.” I thought I knew what they were. I thought that having grown up in an alcoholic home, I had something to offer these kids. Short of murder, there could be little dysfunction that I could not relate to from my own personal experience. I can relate to having witnessed alcohol and drug abuse, violence and sexual abuse, scuffles with police.
But I realize today that my motives run more deeply than that. I did not subject my daughter to the same conditions I grew up in, but I was not the parent I wanted to be. Even after having made my amends, I regret that I wasn’t able to give my daughter the blessing. God knows I wanted to. I did the best I knew how.
And I can’t think of Jaime without regret.
But this program teaches me that I can’t go back in time. I can’t be the mother I wish I had been. And I can’t be that caring adult for Jaime.
I can only choose how I will behave today.
At some point, I realized that my service in Alateen is less about the kind of parents I had, but the kind of parent I was. It’s a kind of living amends.
By being an Alateen sponsor, I can be an example of the Al-Anon program to these kids. I can stand in the gap for them. And that’s a blessing.
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